Fuel starvation brings down Mooney

Aircraft: Mooney M20B. Injuries: 2 Minor. Location: Rosamond, Calif. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: As the pilot prepared for takeoff, he noted that the left fuel tank was about 1/4 full and the right fuel tank was empty.

He had the left fuel tank selected during start up and taxi. As he did his pre-takeoff engine run-up checks, he switched fuel tanks per his normal procedure, despite the fact the right tank was empty. The pilot did not put the selector valve to the left tank prior to take off.

The airplane’s engine lost power within minutes of takeoff. The pilot made a forced landing in a nearby field, during which the airplane collided with fence posts.

Probable cause: A loss of engine power during takeoff due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot’s selection of an empty fuel tank prior to departure.

NTSB Identification: WPR12CA166

This April 2012 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


  1. BJS says

    Unlike some folks I read in this column, I won’t say I won’t ever make an error while flying. However, fuel starvation won’t be one of them because I’ve got a plane that will carry a full fuel load and my rule is to stick the tanks prior to ANY flight and top off the tanks. Even if doing touch and go’s at my home AP, something could happen and I might have to fly three hours to find a place to land.

  2. Randy Coller says

    And ALL of us pay for this stupid pilot. Higher insurance rates. We pay for his mistake.
    There should be a rule….if you run out of fuel, or are too stupid to figure out how to get the fuel to the engine, you have your pilot certificate REVOKED.

    • Rudy says

      A-A-MEN!! to that one. ’bout the only way to clear the skies of these so un-professional private pilots. NO excuse for not being competent and checklist savvy!

  3. Mooney says

    The two most useless things in the world to the aviator; altitude above you and fuel not in the tank. Always taxi using the fuel tank that will be slected for takeoff. If that is low, and I sure consider a quarter of a tank to be about 35 minutes of flight time, don’t fly! Get some fuel. This is a waste of a good Mooney. A good personal standard, when both tanks are down to a quarter, you better be on final.

    • Greg W says

      Nothing says that a “preflight”was not conducted. The statement of “switching tanks per his normal procedure, despite the fact the right tank was empty”, sounds like blindly following a check list and not considering reality. I don’t know why any one would switch tanks right before take off, I do know some who do this. My thought is that you need to give enough time for the new fuel to get to the engine, several minutes. Try shutting off the fuel selector, most will be very suprised at how long the engine will run on fuel in the system forward of the valve. Many aircraft can take off and get to 1-200 feet before the engine stops, and it takes a long time to get fuel back through all that empty tubing.

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